CASPER - (e Wyoming officials are asking the U.S. Department of Energy to rethink a plan to sell excess government uranium. The sale would likely sink the price of uranium and snuff plans to launch several new uranium mining operations in Wyoming and across the West, according to Gov. Dave Freudenthal. (emphasis mine...SB)
Freudenthal and Wyoming's congressional delegation issued requests this week to DOE Secretary Steven Chu on the matter.
"Planned expansions and future operations that will provide long-term, high-paying jobs to Wyoming miners will be postponed or lost if the department continues to drive down the price of uranium through the releases that have been announced," Freudenthal wrote.
The federal government controls about 153 million pounds of uranium derived from the decommissioning of the nation's nuclear weapons program.
In December 2008, the DOE approved the Excess Uranium Inventory Management Plan. The plan sets out a schedule to gradually introduce portions of the uranium stockpile into the nuclear energy market in a manner that would soften the impact on pricing.
But in July the DOE announced its intention to release an additional $150 million to $200 million worth of uranium to fund the cleanup of pollution at a Cold War-era plant in Piketon, Ohio.
That effort, according to one industry official, is likely a politically driven attempt to save hundreds of jobs in Ohio that were jeopardized when the DOE turned down a loan application by U.S. Enrichment Corp. to build a centrifuge uranium enrichment facility in Ohio.
Scott Melby, president of Cameco Inc., said he suspects that the order for the additional uranium stockpile release came directly from President Barack Obama's White House staff.
"It appears to be a political decision that came down from the White House to address the jobs issue in Ohio without consideration of the collateral jobs impact in other states," Melby said. "I'm sure they (DOE and White House officials) didn't even think about any collateral impacts. But obviously there are."
In recent years uranium companies have bought up thousands of mineral lease acres in Western states and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to launch more than 30 new uranium mining projects. About two-thirds of those projects are in Wyoming.
Wyoming's political leaders, along with the uranium industry, say it's counterintuitive to fund a short-term cleanup project in Ohio at the expense of expanding the nation's domestic uranium industry and its long-term jobs.
The trade association Uranium Producers of America has suggested that the federal government could instead fund the Portsmouth cleanup project with stimulus funds or through a separate appropriation.
"We're hoping cooler heads prevail. But it is Washington, D.C.," Melby said.